Detroit Pistons display ultimate teamwork to help feed 800 families at practice facility

Detroit Free Press

Isaiah Stewart looked like a traffic cop.

In the middle of a dance club.

Stewart, the Detroit Pistons‘ 20-year-old center, swayed from side to side and then broke into a dance on Amsterdam Street in front of the Henry Ford Pistons Performance Center in Detroit. He waved a glow stick like it was a tiny lightsaber, pointed at a car, and cupped his hands while directing traffic.

A stream of cars drove slowly under a giant banner that read: “Pistons Give Back.”

Stewart motioned for a car to inch toward his station.

Closer. Closer. Closer.

Stewart kept waving, still dancing and he suddenly stopped.

Like the music went silent.

The car eased to a stop and he danced under tent.

Suddenly, everybody else sprang into action.

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The back trunk of an old Nissan popped open.

Cade Cunningham, the Pistons’ No. 1 overall draft pick, walked toward a car, holding a turkey provided by Jerami Grant and Hamidou Diallo.

“Some boxes!” Luca Garza, another Pistons rookie, said.

Cunningham placed the turkey in the trunk, and Garza stacked some boxes of perishable food to the side.

“Hey, do they need silverware, too?” Cunningham asked.

This wasn’t a small turkey giveaway. This was pallets of food stacked up under lighted tents.

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This was a giant production, and it worked like a machine.

“It’s cool,” Cunningham said. “The Pistons put on a big-time event to be able to help so many families, so it means a lot. It’s huge. I think it means a lot to the community, and I think it has a big impact.”

More than 800 families were given food, and seemingly the entire Pistons organization was involved. Players. The front office. Everybody. DJ Chachi, the Pistons in-house music master, was playing music.

And yes, Stewart was still dancing. What an interesting character, so full of life.

“It’s important to me just because I’m big on giving back, giving back to the community,” Stewart said. “My dad’s an immigrant from Jamaica. Growing up, he worked very hard to keep keep a roof over our head. So I can definitely relate.”

On one hand, it was wonderful to see an entire franchise trying to help out the community.

On the other hand, it was heart breaking, to see so many people in need.

And you have to give Pistons owner Tom Gores credit. He has instilled a help-now attitude in the Pistons organization.

With all the players wearing masks because of COVID-19, it was hard to tell who was giving out the food. They just looked super tall human beings, many wearing sweat pants and winter coats as the temperature dipped toward freezing.

“This isn’t cold,” Garza said. “When we would play in Ann Arbor, it was colder.”

I tapped on the front window of a car.

“Do you follow basketball?” I asked. “Do you realize the first pick in the NBA draft just put a turkey in your back seat?”

The 19-year-old girl smiled. “I don’t really follow basketball,” she said.

And that’s fine.

Actually, that makes it better.

“We’re an extension of the community,” said Pistons general manager Troy Weaver. “We want to make sure that we are part of the community not only on the floor but off the floor. Tom Gores and his group, Platinum, makes it extremely important that we continue to support the community and we really enjoy it. This organization is built on community and so being able to come out and help during the holiday season is tremendous honor for us.”

Every family was given non-perishable food items from Feed the Children, milk and cheese from United Dairy, toiletries from Delta Dental, diapers from Priority Health and miscellaneous items from Meijer.

Yes, it takes a village to help a village.

“This is incredible,” Garza said. “Anytime you can be a part of something that’s giving back to the community that supports you, I think that’s amazing. The community of Detroit does so much for our team. So to be able to do something to give back a little bit is really special. And I’m proud to be a part of an organization and team that prioritizes stuff like this.”

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The cars kept coming.

The music kept playing.

And Stewart kept waving his glow stick, directing traffic.

He was helping people but having a heck of a lot of fund while doing it.

“Well, first of all, it’s freezing,” said De’Shawn O’Banner, 17, from Ypsilanti, who was volunteering as part of the Pistons Youth Council. “Second, I don’t know, there’s something about this. It’s special, being here, being in this moment, seeing my favorite players, it’s an amazing feeling. And then you get to help people as well. You get to help them feed their families. It’s just an enjoyable moment.”

He looked at Stewart, who was still dancing.

“It shows the side of them that is human,” O’Banner said. “You see them on TV. You see them on the court. You think like, oh, they’re robots, or they just play basketball. But then this shows the human side of them. It’s an amazing feeling.”

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Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel/.

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